Autism is a severe neurodevelopmental disorder, which typically emerges early in childhood. The core symptoms of autism include deficits in social interaction, impaired communication, and aberrant repetitive behavior, including self-injury. Despite the strong genetic component for the disease, most cases of autism have not been linked to mutations in a specific gene, and the etiology of the disorder has yet to be established. At the present time, there is no generally accepted therapeutic strategy to treat the core symptoms of autism, and there remains a critical need for appropriate animal models and relevant behavioral assays to promote the understanding and treatment of the clinical syndrome. Challenges for the development of valid mouse models include complex genetic interactions underlying the high heritability of the disease in humans, diagnosis based on deficits in social interaction and communication, and the lack of confirmatory neuropathological markers to provide validation for genetic models of the disorder. Research focusing on genes that mediate social behavior in mice may help identify neural circuitry essential for normal social interaction, and lead to novel genetic animal models of the autism behavioral phenotype.
(c) 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.